A lesson on Video News Releases

According the Center for Media and Democracy (n.d.), video news releases or VNRs, are “prepackaged ‘news’ segments and additional footage created by broadcast [public relations] PR firms, or by publicists within corporations or government agencies.” There are two forms of VNRs, the first being A-roll which “contains narrated ‘news’ stories,” whereas B-roll contains “unnarrated footage and interview clips” (Aiello & Profitt, 2008).

Although 70% of Americans say that they get their news from local television on a daily basis (Harris Interactive, 2006),  a study conducted by Slattery and Tiedge found that the public found no difference in credibility between VNRs aired with or without labels.

Even though the public may not notice a difference in credibility, it is still of ethical concern for news organizations and government agencies. It is difficult for newsrooms to balance “their multiple responsibilities to news owners, peers and the public” (Lordon & Saint John III, 2009). The FCC fined Comcast $4,000 for a violation of the Commission’s rules; they failed to identify a Nelson’s Rescue Sleep VNR as a sponsored news release (In the matter of, 2007).

Newsrooms have developed policies regarding VNR use. Two sides to the debate have emerged. One side is strictly against the use of VNRs because they feel that “the news process is designed to present unbiased information unaffected by commercial considerations” (Lordon & Saint John III, 2009). On the other hand, some other news organizations feel it is acceptable to use VNR footage with certain stipulations. They will clearly identify the source of the information, and only use the footage if they cannot obtain it themselves (Lordon & Saint John III, 2009).

There are consequences to both camps. If a new organization chooses not to use VNRs at all, they may be limiting valuable information that may help the audience. Conversely, a news organization that incorporates VNRs into broadcasts may be failing their ethical obligation to the audience to provide unbiased information free from commercial influence (Lordon & Saint John III, 2009).

Below is a suggested lesson for middle students regarding VNRs:

Here is a video news release featuring Mimyx cream to treat eczema. It is presented in a news segment by WYTV-33 of Youngstown, Ohio and WCPO-9 of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Original VNR

Channel 33

Channel 9

This is a blatant advertisement for Mimyx eczema treatment for children, with footage provided by Stiefel Laboratories from North Carolina. Nowhere does the news-person say that this is funded by or brought to you by a certain company.

On the positive side, this could be a beneficial treatment for those with children who suffer from eczema. The FDA approved this drug.

For this lesson, show the two clips and then ask the students to note the similarities where you can tell that this is a produced story:

  • The baby’s face with red cheeks
  • The boy applying the Mimyx to his arm
  • The expert source doctor is the same in both clips

Some of the differences include:

  • Channel 9 is a local health clip, where as channel 33 is showing it more as a national problem
  • It sounds like channel 9’s on-air personality provided the voice for the clip, where as 33 seemed to introduce the entire produced segment
  • Channel 33’s clip at one point highlights the product and says “Mimyx” in an animated voice, where as channel 9 actually says the product name differently (this is the channel who provided their own voice over)
  • In the clip from channel 33, their expert source is not introduced and has no name listed below him. In the channel 9 clip, the report mentions a local health issue, however, the expert source doctor is from Louisville, Kentucky. The two clips we show are from Ohio.

This post was co-authored by katelinj and nb5619.


Aiello, L., & Proffitt, J. (2008). VNR Usage: A Matter of Regulation or Ethics?. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 23(3), 219-234. doi:10.1080/08900520802198177.

Fake TV News: Introduction; Center for Media and Democracy. (n.d.). Center for Media and Democracy; Publishers of PR Watch. Retrieved November 20, 2010, from http://www.prwatch.org/fakenews/intro

Harris Interactive. (2006). Seven in 10 U.S. adults say they watch broadcast news at least several times a week. Retrieved May 15, 2007, from http://www.harrisinteractive.com/ harris_poll/ index.asp?PIDD644

In the Matter of COMCAST CORPORATION. (2007, September 21). http://www.fcc.gov. Retrieved November 20, 2010, from http://www.fcc.gov/eb/Orders/2007/DA-07-4005A1.html

Lordan, E. J. & Saint John III, B. (2009). Video news release policies and usage at US television news stations: Deontological implications for the newsroom. Journalism Practice, 3(1), 46-58. doi: 10.1080/17512780802560740

Safety Information Sold Separately (2005). Center for Media and Democracy. Center for media and democracy: Publishers of PR watch. Retrieved November 20, 2010, from http://www.prwatch.org/fakenews/vnr10

Slattery, K., & Tiedge, J. (1992). The effect of labeling staged video on the credibility of TV news stories. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 36(3), 279. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

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